Alexander Freer, “A Genealogy of Narcissism: Percy Shelley’s Self-Love” (pp. 1–29)
Readers have long considered Percy Shelley narcissistic. They have good reason: his account of love is premised on a lover’s thirst for likeness. Yet Shelley’s idea of love also obliges us to rethink the concept of narcissism, and especially its relations to solipsism and selfishness. Shelley works through Plato’s accounts of love in his translation of The Symposium, titled The Banquet (1818), and the accompanying Discourse on the Manners of the Antient Greeks, before developing a related but distinct account of his own, in which lovers seek from each other the things that they already know but cannot otherwise enjoy. Ultimately, Shelley’s self-love is not a form of solitary satisfaction, but an ethical and aesthetic project that is dependent on the recognition of another. Tracing Shelley’s thinking on love from his engagement with Plato to his own poetry and prose, this essay develops an alternate, non-Freudian genealogy of narcissism.